by Sarah Jane Nolan, BA History Student
There are lots of items of interest within the Armstrong archive collection at UL’s Special Collections. One of these is an inventory of gifts given to Lisalie Armstrong and Odo Russel on their wedding day. (P6A-224-230) (1451) The list is typed in a basic font on typewriting paper. The sheets are thin, have a similar texture to parchment paper, and are beige in colour, possibly due to age. The dimensions of the pages are 200mm x 325mm. This register of gifts is sizeable and spans eleven pages, and each page has over thirty entries. Most entries are typed but some were handwritten, with spelling mistakes corrected by pen.
Wedding presents were one of the few forms of gift exchanges that were recorded by families of the Armstrong’s class. During the twentieth century, however, goods were becoming more affordable and more disposable. 1 Therefore, this wedding gift list is an important source to have within a collection.
The wedding of Lisalie Armstrong and Odo Russel
Lisalie Maude Armstrong was born on 16 February 1897 in Sligo. She was the daughter of Captain Marcus Beresford Armstrong. She met Odo Russel of the Black Watch after the First World War. They fell in love and were married in London on 8 June 1927.
Their wedding generated much popular public interest. Viscount Hawarden, a cousin of Lisalie, gave her away at the wedding ceremony as her father had passed away five years prior. The newspapers paid attention, mentioning the wedding guests, the bride’s dress, and details about the ceremony and reception. 2 Lisalie and Odo had very prominent and influential guests at their wedding. The occasion of the nuptials of this young couple was clearly a social gathering for people of high social status.
Reinforcing social relationships
As Orla Fitzpatrick has written, the presentation of a wedding gift brings social cohesion and reinforces relationships and loyalties within interdependent groups. 3 The wedding gifts here do not appear to be listed in order of social precedence as there are gifts of silver from the household staff and the employees of the Moyaliffe estate present on the first page.
Many of the names on the list were of high-ranking members of the military, including Major General John ‘J.V.’ Vaughan. It is likely that these military connections to the couple were through the service and high-ranking positions of the military men in the Armstrong and Russel families.
Other gifts were received from members of the aristocracy, such as the Duke and Duchess of Roxburgh, Viscount Hawarden, and the Earl of Ely. These names indicate the wealthy and influential people to whom the Armstrongs were linked.
Gifts of silver are prominent on Lisalie and Odo’s wedding gift list. In the mid-nineteenth century, silver had become more affordable and fashionable as a gift option for newlyweds. Urban commercial establishments furthered and catered to the popularity of these silver gifts. 4 Approximately ninety gifts of silver or possessing silver attachments are mentioned throughout this inventory.
Some examples are silver tea sets, silver teaspoons, silver coffee spoons, and silver sugar bowls. Such gifts give an insight into the dining culture of wealthy families in twentieth-century Ireland. As dining became a more extravagant affair, specific dining implements were created for the task. It was possible to purchase a different spoon to complete a separate task; some examples were a separate spoon for salt, sugar, coffee, tea, and gravy. suggests that the gift givers were aware of the dining etiquette and that Lisalie followed hosting customs. 5
The couple received numerous cheques as wedding gifts. This could be a sign of endorsement in the couple or an element of trust and good judgment in spending the money wisely. It could also transfer wealth or inheritance to the new couple. The amounts are not written, just that a cheque was received.
Some of the entries in the wedding guest list are particularly interesting because they were cheques gifted by women. A women’s relationship with money and finances differed depending on her class or marital status. One explanation for this is that they may have been a widow who possessed more control over their estate and finances. 6
Other interesting items received were electrical gifts. Lisalie and Odo received, for example, an electric reading lamp from Sir Hubert and Lady Montgomery. Such gifts attest to their privileged position in society as the general rural electrification program did not commence in Ireland until 1946.
All the wedding gifts highlighted above and throughout the list allow us to potentially visualise the inside of an Irish country house and the occupant’s hobbies and interests. The names of the gift-givers listed provide insight into the Armstrong family and their social connections. The gifts reflect the socioeconomic status, family alliances, and the community in which they socialised.
This wedding guest list and other items within this collection such as wedding photographs and invitations provide glimpses of social class, gender, and high society life in Ireland during the 1920s.
- Orla Fitzpatrick, ‘The material culture of marriage: What wedding gifts can tell us about 1940s Dublin’ in Éire-Ireland, xlvi, no. 1-2 (2011), p. 178.
- Irish Independent, 9 June 1927, p. 8
- Orla Fitzpatrick, ‘The material culture of marriage: What wedding gifts can tell us about 1940s Dublin’ in Éire-Ireland, xlvi, no. 1-2 (2011), p. 180.
- B. Penner,‘ “A vision of love and luxury”: the commercialisation of nineteenth‐century American weddings.’ Winterthur Portfolio 39, no. 1 (2004), p 2.
- Penner, B. ‘A Vision of Love and Luxury’: The Commercialization of Nineteenth‐Century American Weddings.’ Winterthur Portfolio 39, no. 1 (2004): p10.
- Orla Fitzpatrick, ‘The material culture of marriage: What wedding gifts can tell us about 1940s Dublin’ in Éire-Ireland, xlvi, no. 1-2 (2011), p. 189.